Bun B, Kendrick Lamar, Big K.R.I.T.
Tim Keller, John Piper, Louie Giglio.
Bubba Watson, Justin Forsett, Steph Curry.
The first three: famous, critically-acclaimed rappers.
Keller, Piper, and Giglio? Well-known white pastors in their 50s and 60s.
Two-time Masters champion Watson, Baltimore Ravens running back Forsett, and newly-crowned NBA MVP Curry round out the group.
The only thing connecting this seemingly-disparate group together is the influence of the rapper Lecrae. Having the ear of everyone from world-famous rappers to pastors to athletes is why he is one of the most important and influential people in America.
I’m what happens when Outkast meets the writings of Moses
The views are opposing, but they correlate
And me and Christ don’t match, but we coordinate
If Wu-Tang can spit five percent gems
I can talk about Him who died for my sins
I’m not a gospel rapper, not a holy roller
I’m just a product of grace, spreading hope to the hopeless – “Co-Sign”
Lecrae is a man between two worlds. But to say he’s caught between those worlds would be wrong. He’s positioned himself and his career exactly where he wants to be.
But it’s a lonely place, for now. Lecrae was a wildly successful Christian rapper before pivoting his career to focus more on reaching the mainstream world of hip-hop and culture in general.
He’s won two Grammy Awards for best Gospel Album and Contemporary Christian Song, but perhaps most importantly he was nominated for Best Rap Performance alongside Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and Eminem.
“I’ve learned to be comfortable where I’m at, I feel comfortable in my own skin,” says Lecrae. “People trust where I’m coming from. I’m anxious for more people to exist in this space with me.”
In 2015 he’s performed on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and Good Morning America. In the last few years he’s also collaborated with Big K.R.I.T and put out two mixtapes with DJ Don Canon. The Texas native is in a position of unequaled influence in both the secular and Christian music worlds. But this foray into the world outside the Christian music bubble has left him his share of critics from both sides.
“If you influence 1,000 people, you’re going to have 100 critics,” says Lecrae. “Every leader that you esteem and admire has been critiqued extremely harshly. Look at Martin Luther King, they killed him.”
You know the ones that never turned back
Martin Luther King got shot for it
That’s priceless you can’t earn that
Then tell me what do you think he died for?
A peace prize? A holiday?
So I can rap a whole bunch of weak lines
About how I’m a make my choppers spray? – “Sacrifice”
Lecrae is likely the only person in the world fielding phone calls from the Trill OG Bun B and hopping on a jet to Finland to play at a Christian festival. He’s playing Free Press Summer Fest in Houston alongside the likes of R. Kelly, St. Vincent, and The Decemberists, but he’s also likely rocked the stage at the church down the street from you with a bunch of middle and high school kids.
Situations like the racial tensions in Baltimore tend to elevate Lecrae’s influence. As an African-American with the ear of the majority-white evangelical church population, he knows that he can affect great change with his words and actions.
But Lecrae isn’t a politician; people actually listen to him.
“It’s about the narrative. A lot of times people can’t quite grasp a truth or perspective unless it’s wrapped up in a story. For example if you watch Lord of the Rings which is about the heart and coveting, you appreciate the message in it because of how great the story is,” says Lecrae. “If I just told you that our hearts are deceitful and you had qualms or issues with that statement, that’s what would rise up first.”
So dead beat daddy was taught to me way before my time
Now we extreme, buying fancy things like gold chains
Just pretty shackles, we still enslaved
Put ’em round your neck, cuz we still hangin – “Dirty Water”
Lecrae’s narratives, like “Welcome to America” which he performed on Fallon, are striking pictures of modern society. He doesn’t have a specific song about the events in Ferguson or Baltimore, but he is entering the studio soon and might have something up his sleeve.
“When we are talking about Baltimore or Ferguson I do better to construct a song or story or a talk around it where I can have a longer runway to explain things rather than giving a quick 140 character blurb on social media,” explains Lecrae.
Lecrae never shies away from topics, and many record labels would balk at letting an artist explore the territory that he explores. But Lecrae doesn’t have to worry about that, he started his record label Reach Records with Ben Washer in 2004. Add smart businessman to the list of superlatives one could use to describe Lecrae.
So I feel what’s popping on the charts is popping body parts
And yeah, sometimes my music’s for the church, I call it body art – “The Fever”
He’s also the only artist to ever have a No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and the Gospel chart at the same time like he did in September 2014. That album, Anomaly, was the high point in a years-long journey that began with Lecrae’s decision to reach further into the mainstream culture in order to influence it with his Christian message.
“Most of the time we spend our energy critiquing, condemning, or copying culture instead of creating culture. I felt burdened to create culture,” says Lecrae. “I wanted to help people create categories for what culture could look like. There needs to be voices that bring clarity, sobriety, and hope. Those voices are usually trapped inside an Amen Corner and aren’t heard by the larger society.”
He compared it to the culture of eating organic food. The strong advocates for organic eating were often preaching to their own “Amen Corner” before several documentaries became popular and brought the message to the wider culture. Lecrae had grown tired of playing to his own Amen Corner and began branching out.
“I want to change the way people see the world. We all look at the world through a particular lens,” says Lecrae. “When your worldview is transformed then your values and actions are transformed. A lot of people want to modify behavior. It’s not really a change of heart. I want people to be different, not just do different things. We are broken people, but until we have repaired hearts we aren’t changed.”